CN FP9 6501 with Train 14, the International Limited arriving at Dorval on September 6, 1965. Click to enlarge.

(A Roger Puta Photograph, courtesy Marty Bernard from U.S.A., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


International Limited drumhead.


The International (formerly International Limited) was a named passenger train operated between Chicago and Toronto. It was originally an overnight train operated by the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada and its successors the Canadian National Railway and Grand Trunk Western Railroad, running as far as Montreal. The train was cut back to Port Huron, Michigan, in 1970 and discontinued in 1971. 

The service was revived by Amtrak and Via Rail in 1982, see International Limited (Amtrak).


The eastbound International Limited operating on the Grand Trunk Railway around 1909.

(Author: Nicholson, Byron, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



CN/GTW operation

The Grand Trunk Railway opened its St. Clair Tunnel between Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan in 1891, completing the first direct all-rail route from Chicago to Toronto and Montreal. The Canadian National Railway (CN) and Grand Trunk Western Railroad (GTW) introduced the International Limited on May 25, 1900. The train operated between Chicago's Dearborn Station and Montreal's Bonaventure Station via Port Huron, with the overnight section between Chicago and Toronto. The 844-mile (1,358 km) trip was originally scheduled for 22 hours and 52 minutes – an average speed of 36.9 miles per hour (59.4 km/h). The "premier train of the Grand Trunk Railway System", it was assigned numbers 1/2.

The Grand Trunk dropped all train names in 1907. In 1912, the Chicago–Montreal service was changed to numbers 14/15 to allow the Montreal–Prince Rupert Continental Limited to receive numbers 1/2. The International Limited name was restored in March 1919—the first GTW train to have a name since 1907. It remained the premier GTW train and received new equipment in 1929. After 1931, westbound train No. 15 was as much as 4.5 hours faster than its eastbound counterpart, which made local stops between Toronto and Montreal.

The CN and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) began pooling equipment for their competing Montreal–Toronto services in 1933. The eastern half of the International Limited was jointly operated between the CN and CP; it included a CP through car, and train No. 15 departed from the CP Windsor Station. The train was split into Montreal–Toronto and Chicago–Toronto services - both carrying the same numbers - during pre-war service changes in 1939. Montreal Central Station replaced Bonaventure Station as the CN terminus in 1943.

In the 1940s, a typical International Limited had three sleeping cars, a buffet lounge, a dining car, and three or more coach cars. By the 1960s, the lounge only operated west of Port Huron, and the dining car only to the east. The International Limited was always the fastest Chicago–Montreal service; the westbound train made connections in Chicago to southern, western, and southwestern trains.

Until 1964, the International Limited was one of three daily Chicago-Toronto trips on the GTW, along with the Inter-City Limited and La Salle/Maple Leaf. GTW and parent company CN used aggressive marketing, inexpensive fares, and on-board perks like free meals to attract riders. East Lansing station opened as an experimental stop for Michigan State University and proved successful. However, the Grand Trunk was still losing "staggering amounts of money" running the service. The eastbound Inter-City Limited was cut to Port Huron in November 1964, and cut entirely on October 29, 1967, along with the La Salle when the Chicago-Detroit Mohawk was added. In 1965, the pooling arrangement was terminated; in the ensuing rearrangements, only the Chicago–Toronto section (renumbered 155/156) retained the International Limited name.

The International Limited was cut back to Port Huron on June 12, 1970, leaving the Maple Leaf (the westbound a 1966-renamed Inter-City Limited) as the railroad's only Toronto train. The CN added local trains between Toronto and London, Ontario approximating the former schedule. The Interstate Commerce Commission approved GTW plans in September 1970 to terminate the no-longer-international International, but a judicial order and the pending takeover of intercity rail service in the United States by Amtrak kept the service operating. Amtrak did not retain any of the six GTW trains (the International Limited, Maple Leaf, and Mohawk). They made their last runs on April 30, 1971; the International Limited was the last intercity train to depart from Dearborn Station.


An International Limited Postcard Gallery. Click to enlarge.


The Canadian National's International Limited, from Gallaher Trains of the World, 1937. (W. Lenheim Collection)

Postcard "Flight of the International Limited". (Valentine & Sons, Ltd., Montreal, Toronto, Public Domain, W. Lenheim Collection)

Postcard depicting the interior of the St. Claire Tunnel at Port Huron. (Commercialchrome, Public domain, W. Lenheim Collection)


Grand Trunk International Limited Postcard.

(Valentine & Sons, Ltd., Montreal, Toronto, Public Domain, W. Lenheim Collection)